Domenico Tedesco’s future as Schalke manager is increasingly uncertain as fans vented their fury at the team’s dismal form
If you thought, before they welcomed Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday, that things couldn’t get much worse for Schalke, then you were wrong. So, so wrong. Ask coach Domenico Tedesco, met with a hot reception as he went to acknowledge the home supporters after the team’s 4-0 defeat, the latest humiliation in a season of chastening experiences. Otherwise, ask Benjamin Stambouli, who began the afternoon wearing the captain’s armband and ended it having a pair of supporters demand it back from him.
It was, as Der Westen’s Alexander Keßel wrote, “pure chaos”. Before the match they were already saddled with their lowest points total at this stage of the season since 1983, when they were relegated. The mind-bendingly bad performance against Fortuna might possibly have been coming for a while – though putting in a worse display than last week’s miserable loss at Mainz was an achievement in itself – but the furious reaction from the stands had definitely been. Schalke’s young coach, continuing steadfastly through a particularly severe case of second album syndrome, had largely been shielded from the fans’ rising mood of discontent. Not any more. “The air is getting thinner and thinner for Tedesco,” wrote Kicker’s Toni Lieto.
He may survive for a little longer, with new head of sports Jochen Schneider bedding in and set to be introduced to the club’s supervisory board. Der Spiegel’s Hassan Talib Haji, well connected at the club, tweeted on Sunday night that Tedesco will still be on the bench for Friday night’s trip to Werder Bremen.
Those hoping for relief in an unbearable situation will hope – bizarrely, given recent history – to follow in the steps of Stuttgart, where the arrival of Thomas Hitzlsperger in the equivalent role to Schneider’s has re-energised the club and given a boost to Markus Weinzierl, a coach who had looked like a lame duck. If Weinzierl didn’t have enough problems of his own, you can bet he would shiver as he viewed his Schalke successor Tedesco’s current travails.
Tedesco’s appetite for the fight is not in doubt. But a fight is what Schalke are in right now, with Stuttgart – who occupy the relegation play-off place – having closed the gap between the two sides to just four points. “I’m not the sort to just piss off,” he said after the game when asked about his future, and his opposite number on the Fortuna bench, the vastly-experienced Friedhelm Funkel, praised Tedesco’s determination to approach the Kurve and apologise to the furious fans after the thrashing. “I wouldn’t have done that,” Funkel confessed.
The invective from the stands was understandable. If the pasting at Mainz was a new low then this was a new, new low, described as “lifeless” by Tedesco, while forward Mark Uth lamented that “we played without any heart”. Fortuna’s Dodi Lukebakio had already had one first-half strike chalked off before he gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot and when Schalke tried to fight back after the break, they were trimmed apart on the counter. Benito Raman ran riot, scoring one and setting up another for Dawid Kownacki, with the on-loan Polish striker hitting his first two goals for the club since joining from Sampdoria.
It was Schalke’s seventh home defeat of the season and after Stuttgart’s emphatic 5-1 win over Hannover on Sunday, only the bottom two of Hannover and Nürnberg have worse home records than Die Königsblauen. Ralf Rangnick, another former occupant of the Schalke hot seat, spoke on Friday of his surprise that Schneider was quitting RB Leipzig to move north, though he understood. “He told me that he really wanted to go,” said Leipzig’s coach and sporting director. “He was an ardent Schalke fan as a boy. When you get a chance like that, you can’t deny someone that.”
In context, though, this is as far from a fairytale as one could possibly imagine. Hitzlsperger talked when he was appointed to the Stuttgart role that he would need to focus on the immediate “because if we don’t reach our goals in the short term, it will be difficult in the long term.” Schneider must think the same. He, along with chairman Clemens Tönnies, spent just under 15 minutes in the dressing room with the team after the game, but there was no address. It was probably wise to give himself time to collect his thoughts after what he had just seen.
Whether it is Tedesco – who was given a contract extension to 2022 at the beginning of the season in an attempt to provide the sort of stability that the club has lacked in the past – or somebody else’s job, the players need to be lifted. Online fan discussions have been divided on the actions of the pair who took the armband (which was passed from fans to players pre-season, in an attempt to create a bond) from Stambouli, with some backing them and others believing that it was just a little too personal. The French midfielder, who appeared quite shaken by the incident, is widely acknowledged to “get” the club, and said afterwards that “we players are small compared to this big club”. Lieto noted in Kicker that “his disappointment was keenly felt. That doesn’t apply to all of Schalke’s [players].”
• Friday night’s game at Augsburg had opened the door for Niko Kovac and company and represented the continuation of Dortmund’s dire record away to the lower lights. They’ve now taken two points away to Fortuna (who kickstarted their run of form on the back of beating BVB), Augsburg and the hopeless bottom two of Hannover and Nürnberg. Ji Dong-won’s brace underlined their chaotic defending – which doesn’t bode well for hopes of a Champions league comeback against Tottenham.
• Leaving the title race implications to one side for a second, it was a superbly organised performance from the under-fire Manuel Baum’s Augsburg team – and they really needed the points with Stuttgart continuing their recent upturn by thrashing Hannover. VfB’s 5-1 included two goals by teenage centre-back Ozan Kabak, a big-money winter signing from Galatasaray but “a role model despite his age”, according to Hitzlsperger.